The Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sutras: Where to start?

bhagavad gita

Whether you’ve vowed to read more spiritual texts as part of a commitment to your yoga practice, or are just curious about where all this yoga stuff started, you’ve likely come across the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  You may have purchased a copy of one of the other or both, and feeling overwhelmed asked yourself (as I did), “Oh my god, where do I start?”

First, here’s a VERY brief description of each of the texts. The Bhagavad Gita is an epic poem that takes place on a battlefield.  The poem is a conversation between Krishna (deity) and Arjuna (man).  The ‘Gita’ is one of the core sacred texts of Hinduism.  The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are 196 Indian sūtras (aphorisms) that constitute the foundational text of Rāja yoga (one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy).

No help?  I’m was right there with you.  But I decided to dive in.  During teacher training we dipped our toe into the Yoga Sutras, and I picked up the Gita on my own.  They are very different reads, and wonderful in their own rights.   Rather than trying to fumble my way through a dissertation that may leave you more confused, I’ll refer to Eric Shaw, scholar, yogi, and creator of Prasana Yoga. His comparison of the two works is phenomenally informative and clear.

“In comparing the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras, the first general distinction we make is that the Gita offers prescriptions amenable to householders (grhasthas) and the YS offers prescriptions suited for renunciants (sramanas, sanyasis, viras). Indeed, local commentators have suggested that the Gita was written partly to curtail the loss of male social capital to renunciant lifestyles.[1] In our time, where new forms of Hatha Yoga are all the rage and the Yoga Sutras are the going template for Hatha practice, it is rarely noted that much of the phenomena described therein would be encountered only by the committed sanyasi. The physical culturist yogis now paying sweat equity in homes, gyms and neighborhood studios are not spiritual heroes, but grhasthas (householders). Only viras (heroes) will depart mainstream life to do the painful practices that yield siddhis (yogic powers) and explore the rarified states of samadhi described in the YS.

This bias in the two texts is apparent at the most superficial level.”

Shaw goes on, in detail to break it down into what I call the “Beginner’s Guide to Sacred Hindu and Yoga Texts.”  His ability to convey a comparison with digestible simplicity makes diving into the tomes more accessible.  Check out the full article, “The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras Compared.”  It’s a lengthy post, but extremely interesting, helpful and well crafted.

Get your spiritual read on.


– Your Charmed Yogi

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2 thoughts on “The Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sutras: Where to start?

  1. Getting all up in the Gita at the moment and I find it fascinating, but also…a challenge to wrap my head around certain concepts. Not on an individualistic level, but on a broader level when thinking about how we act (or don’t act) with others. It’s highly interesting. A journey…as always…

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